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Thanks For The Memory

July 28, 2008
By Dave Hecei,

Modern Macs are very fast. The G5 chip was pretty fast, and is still a very usable computer, but any of the Intel dual-core chips are even faster. The computer industry is always introducing faster and shinier computers and Apple seems to be even better at creating that ''envy'' factor, but do you really need a new computer already? Not if you have a dual core G5 tower or one of the first Intel Macs. Going from a 1.83 GHz Intel to a 2.0 or 2.2 GHz chip is not worth buying a new Mac. One of the best ways to get the most out of the Mac you have now is to check your memory.

OS X, the operating system on your Mac, needs RAM (Random Access Memory), the more the better. For OS X 10.4, I would recommend a minimum of 512 MB. For 10.5 Leopard, Apple's latest OS, I recommend at least 1 GB. Of course, these are bare minimums. If you only have the minimum amount of RAM in your Mac then adding more will definitely improve performance.

Right now, most types of memory are priced at an all time low. Older style RAM chips, like those used in older G3 and G4 Macs, are not as popular today so are priced a bit higher than the newer type of RAM used in the G5 and Intel Macs. Buying RAM in a store (retail) can be much more expensive than buying online or mail order. Retailers may offset this with rebates that can make them more competitive, if you like rebates. Memory chips are considered a commodity item so prices can vary day to day.

The first step in getting more RAM in your Mac is to find out how much RAM you have. In OS X, just click on the blue apple in the upper left corner and in the pull down menu select the first item ''About This Mac.'' This will bring up a box that lists some important information about your computer. This box will tell you what version of OS X you are running (10.3.x, 10.4.x, 10.5.x, etc.), what processor you have, and how much total memory is installed.

Knowing the total amount of RAM in your computer is not quite enough information. Most Macs have more than one slot where you can install memory cards. To find out what is in each slot we need to bring up another box. Click on the button at the bottom of the About This Mac window to get more information. This will run the System Profiler utility program. A window will open and along the left will be a list of hardware components. Click once on memory and the right windowpane will show a list of the memory sockets and what size memory chip is installed. Some Macs have two slots, while the big Mac Pro towers have eight slots for a total of 32 GB.

A great place to find specifications and other information on your specific Mac is EveryMac ( Find your Mac in the large list of computers and get all kind of great specs, including the maximum amount of RAM that can be installed. Another great site for memory info is also a great place to buy from. Crucial is a top memory chip manufacturer and their web site has a complete database of practically every computer ever made. There is a three-step process that you follow to find your Mac. First select Apple as the maker and click go, then select the product line (iMac, PowerBook, MacBook, etc.). In the last step just go through the dropdown list to find your particular Mac (sometimes this can be hard because there are several models that are the same except for speed or even just release date).

When you find your Mac on the Crucial site, a page will display with all kinds of information on the memory it can use. You don't have to purchase the RAM here, but they do have decent prices and their RAM is higher quality than most mail order ''budget'' RAM.

As an example, let's upgrade a stock ''white'' Intel 17-inch iMac, one of the first Intel Macs made. Going to the ''Get Info'' box we know that the computer has only 512 MB of RAM. Clicking on the More Info button we find memory in the list and it says there are two slots with 256 MB in each. Going to the EveryMac site, we find the 17-inch Intel iMac and it tells us that it can hold a maximum of 2 GB of RAM.

Since RAM is so cheap it's best to max out the memory. Unfortunately, this iMac only has two memory slots and both are filled so both of these chips need to be removed to do the upgrade. The really unfortunate thing is that this pair of 256 MB memory cards is worth very little so there is no trade-in value to them.

As I write this article, Crucial has a set of two 1 GB DIMMS (memory cards) for $52. With the added sales tax and free shipping, it's just over $56. Another online technology retailer had a similar item for $40 plus tax. As you can see, RAM prices are rock bottom at the moment.

Having your Mac fully loaded with memory allows both the operating system and other programs to run at peak performance. Since the Mac is now the digital hub, any software you use for creating movies, music, or retouching photos will work better and faster with more RAM.

The Mac OS like to have lots of memory. OS X Tiger is happy with 1 GB of RAM, but Leopard really does need 2 GB. Leopard has some new technologies, compared to Tiger, which rely on extra bits of memory being available.

TimeMachine, Leopard's built-in automatic backup system, works in the background saving your files for you, in case of accidental deletion or drive failure. QuickLook, the ability to view the contents of a file without having to open them, is a great feature but needs extra RAM to work smoothly. Of course, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running simultaneously.

Instead of looking at that faster processor, coming out soon, why not do a little upgrading on your current Mac. No matter what Mac you have, laptop, desktop, or even a mini, maxing out your RAM is a great way to improve performance and make the OS even more stable. With current RAM prices, filling up the memory slots won't break the bank and your Mac will run faster and be happier. It might even say ''Thanks for the memory.''



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